COVID-19: Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be tested on children (BBC)

Dr Latifa Haque
February 22, 2021

A new trial will test if the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in children. This month, around 240 children between the age of 6 and 17 will receive the first dose of the vaccine, whilst a control group with receive a meningitis jab. Researchers will assess whether it stimulates a strong immune response in children.

Food for Thought

What are the problems around consent in this study?

This study will include volunteers who are between the age of 6 and 17 to either take the AstraZeneca or the control drug. However, this will likely raise important concerns around consent. In order to give informed consent, a person must be able to understand all the information, retain it, evaluate the risks and benefits, and be able to communicate their decision. They must be free from coercion. Do you think children are able to give informed consent to participate in this study? Should parents be allowed to make this decision on behalf of their children? What are the risks and benefits of parents consenting for their children?

Is this trial a worthwhile use of money and time?

As we know, children are relatively unaffected by Covid-19 and are less likely to become unwell and die from it compared to adults. Therefore, when the vaccines were being trialed, the priority was to test their effectiveness on adults. However, there have still been a few children who have gotten sick and died from Covid-19. In particular, these have been children with weaker immune systems or have other medical conditions. Is it fair that such children have not been prioritised during the development of vaccines, even if they may have really benefited from it? Even now, this new trial is only testing the vaccine on a few hundred children. What effect will this have on the reliability of the trial? How might this affect the trial results?

Practice Interview QUestions
  1. A mother wants her 15-year-old child to be part of a clinical trial for the Covid-19 vaccine. The child is upset and says she doesn't want to participate. Discuss the ethical issues involved.
  2. Should childhood vaccinations become compulsory? Explore the arguments for and against before making your decision.

Extra Reading (optional)